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Fiji

Tabua 1800 - 1953

Bone, fibre | 19.0 cm (whole object) | RCIN 74624

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A tabua or presentation sperm whale tooth suspended by a cord of plaited sinnet at each end.

In Fijian culture teeth are traditionally collected from the lower jaws of beached whales, and since whale beachings are a relatively rare occurrence, the teeth are highly prized. In some cases whales' teeth are rubbed with coconut oil and turmeric, or smoked, to turn them a rich tobacco colour.  When threaded on a cord, as here, they are known as tabua, and they play an important role in traditional ceremonies of marriage, mourning and peace-making.  Rather than being worn, they are exchanged by participants while formal speeches are made. They are also used by high-ranking chiefs to welcome guests on state occasions.